LONDON (AP) — They are among the world's leading footballers and, unsurprisingly, the most coveted by rival teams.
With no competitive matches in Europe, it's the intrigue about the futures of Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez and Cesc Fabregas that is largely filling the void during the offseason. European clubs could be on the verge of completing hundreds of millions of dollars in transfer business before the Sept. 2 cutoff, defying the economic climate on the continent and UEFA's relatively new Financial Fair Play rules.
Or, quite possibly, very little money could change hands. Instead, the leading players will stay put and the European footballing landscape will remain largely unchanged. It's a situation that would become far clearer with public clarity from the players, who have gone very quiet recently.
One of the biggest transfers to be mooted in the offseason has been for Bale, with Real Madrid the most active in the chase for the Tottenham forward. Leaving north London would seem logical. Financial considerations aside — the weekly pay packet in Madrid would likely be worth at least $300,000 a week — Bale's chances of lifting a trophy would be significantly enhanced, and he would be able to display his talents in the Champions League again.
While there has not been an official bid, Marca — the Spanish sports newspaper renowned for its close links to Madrid — has ramped up coverage of "Operation Bale," claiming in recent weeks that a transfer exceeding $100 million is imminent.
So has Bale reaffirmed his loyalty to the team that turned him into one of Europe's hottest properties? Not quite. "I'm hoping to improve from last season," is one of the few vague public comments from the speedy Wales star this month.
And in an usual move, Bale's agent, Jonathan Barnett, went on Marca's television station in May to declare that they would listen to an offer from Madrid. Not that Bale and his agent have much say in the matter, since there are three years remaining on the player's Tottenham contract.
"The player is under contract at Tottenham," Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said Friday, confirming that talks over extending that deal are ongoing but unresolved. If Bale wanted to leave why not hand in an official transfer request? It's a question many have been asking of Rooney, who wants to end his nine-year Manchester United career, and Suarez, who wants to upgrade Liverpool for a more competitive club.
"It's a bit of a red herring, there's no requirement you submit a transfer request," sports lawyer Ian Lynam said in a telephone interview. "Most players who move don't move on the back of a transfer requests."
Suarez is one of the few leading players to publicly agitate for a transfer. Taking to the airwaves in his native Uruguay, the striker made it clear in repeated radio interview he wants to leave Liverpool despite having with three years to go on his contract.
Madrid is his preferred destination — a move that could hinge on the Spanish side's pursuit of Bale — but the only offers so far have come from Liverpool's Premier League rival, Arsenal — the latest worth 40 million pounds ($61 million).
That Suarez is keen on joining Arsenal, which is in Europe next season unlike Liverpool, seems to be at odds with comments in May that escaping the English media "who are trashing me unfairly" is his reason for wanting to exit Anfield.
In this, what price loyalty? Liverpool stood by Suarez when racially abused Manchester United's Patrice Evra in 2011, an incident and eight-match ban that damaged the global standing of the 19-time English champions.
That reputation was harmed further when Suarez bit Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a game in April, and was banned for 10 matches. Such incidents make it seem even more baffling that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, a proponent of high moral standards in football, would pursue Suarez, who still has six matches of his ban left to serve.
Suarez's departure would leave Liverpool without its most prolific scorer. With Rooney, though, Manchester United, is steadfastly refusing to release an increasingly peripheral player. Bids from Chelsea have been rebuffed despite Rooney falling behind striker Robin van Persie in the United pecking order.
Lynam disputes the notion that knowing a player is officially up for sale prevents clubs from extracting the highest transfer fee. "Technically the clubs don't have to sell a player and they can keep him," said Lynam of London-based law firm Charles Russell. "But the reality is there is a lot of power with the players and clubs are loathed to hang onto a player who really wants to move ... when you compare it to American sports, the level of power the players have in European football is significant."
Rooney has not spoken publicly on the situation since Alex Ferguson disclosed before retiring as United in May that the disenchanted striker wanted out of Old Trafford. At the same time as denying Rooney an escape route, United has pursued Fabregas at Barcelona, while also being heavily linked with a highly ambitious bid to re-sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Madrid.
Seeking a big-name signing to start his managerial reign, David Moyes has embarked on a highly public quest to prize Fabregas from the Spanish champions with a series of hostile bids for the former Arsenal captain.
"It's logical that we've had offers for Fabregas because he is a quality player," Barcelona vice president Josep Maria Bartomeu said. "But he is not for sale." The same "not for sale" sign has been placed over Rooney by United, Suarez by Liverpool and Bale by Tottenham. The departure of one could set the wheels in motion for a series of blockbuster summer moves.
For now, the transfer merry-go-round is barely moving.